Why Is Dancing So Good for Your Brain?

Why Is Dancing So Good for Your Brain?

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Dancers maximize cognitive function and muscle memory through practice.

Dancing improves brain function on a variety of levels. Two recent studies show how different types of practice allow dancers to achieve peak performance by blending cerebral and cognitive thought processes with muscle memory and ‘proprioception’ held in the cerebellum. Through regular aerobic training that incorporates some type of dance at least once a week anyone can maximize his or her brain function.

Professional dancers don’t get dizzy. Why?

Do you feel dizzy sometimes when you stand up? Does a fear of falling prevent you from exploring the world more? If you are prone to dizziness, a new study has found that dancing may help improve your balance and make you less dizzy. In September 2013, researchers from Imperial College London reported on specific differences in the brain structure of ballet dancers that may help them avoid feeling dizzy when they perform pirouettes. You don’t have to train to become a professional ballet dancer to benefit from some type of dancing.

The article is titled, “The Neuroanatomical Correlates of Training-Related Perceptuo-Reflex Uncoupling in Dancers.” The research suggests that years of training can enable dancers to suppress signals from the balance organs in the inner ear linked to the cerebellum. The findings, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, could help to improve treatment for patients with chronic dizziness. Around one in four people experience this condition at some time in their lives.

In a previous Psychology Today blog titled “Fear of Falling Creates a Downward Spiral” I talk about the risk of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) due to a fear of falling and impaired balance. Taking time throughout your life to improve the function of your cerebellum through aerobic activity and some type of dance is a fun and effective way to avoid the perils of dizziness.

For this study the researchers at Imperial College London recruited 29 female ballet dancers and, as a comparison group, 20 female rowers whose age and fitness levels matched the dancers. Interestingly, most rhythmic aerobic exercise is going to be a bi-pedal motion or very linear—like rowing. It is interesting to note the benefits to proprioception and balance based in the cerebellum that is enhanced through dance.

The study volunteers were spun around in a chair in a dark room. They were asked to turn a handle in time with how quickly they felt like they were still spinning after they had stopped. The researchers also measured eye reflexes triggered by input from the vestibular organs. Later, they examined the participants’ brain structure with MRI scans.

“It’s not useful for a ballet dancer to feel dizzy or off balance. Their brains adapt over years of training to suppress that input. Consequently, the signal going to the brain areas responsible for perception of dizziness in the cerebral cortex is reduced, making dancers resistant to feeling dizzy. If we can target that same brain area or monitor it in patients with chronic dizziness, we can begin to understand how to treat them better.”